[ Progressio -  1992, No. 2 ]


The following is a translation of the talk given to the National Congress of CLC-France by the Provincial of the French Jesuits, Fr Jacques Orgebin SJ. We thought it would also be of interest and benefit to the World Community. In addressing the Congress, Fr Orgebin sought simply to share his reflections on the title of their assembly - "a community called to serve" ....


Being with Him

Although the call to serve re-echoes all over the Gospel, it must be pointed out first of all that Jesus did not start by entrusting his disciples with a task, with a programme of action to be carried out. He didn't tell them "Here's my plan. You're going to come with me, we'll start by preaching the Kingdom in Galilee, then in Judea. From time to time I'll send you off on mission, two by two, to cast out devils and heal the sick. Later on, when I am gone you will leave Jerusalem and set up communities in my name all over Palestine, and as far as Athens and Rome. That's the agreement. If you're happy with it, then sign!"

No, Christ didn't talk in these terms. He didn't begin by calling them to a task, however noble. First of all he called them to Him, to his person, without their knowing beforehand just where this might lead them. Those amongst you who have made the Exercises know how much they emphasise the personal relationship with Jesus, who is the foundation of everything. Mark's Gospel expresses this in a way, describing in Chapter Three a scene where Jesus is seen climbing the mountain. A crowd of people gather on the mountainside, men and women wounded by life and ravaged by illness, who are desperately seeking a saviour. One could imagine how, in the face of such suffering humanity, Jesus's first reaction would be to say to his disciples "do something for all these people, don't leave them like this." But in fact this was not His way of doing things. Before sending people to others, he called them to Himself.

Jesus, according to the text, "summoned those he wanted. So they came to him, and he appointed twelve" ... not to be sent straight into action, but to be his companions. So, before anything else, Jesus calls people to enter into familiarity with Him, to live in and from His presence. Only on this basis could the disciples be sent to announce the One whose life they share in, and put themselves at the service of his liberating work.

With Him and with each other

It seems to me that today more than ever we must hear the word of Jesus, asking his disciples to come close to him and stay with him, together. I insist on the word "together" because Christian existence is never a solo venture. We move towards Christ with one another, by means of one another. We always need others with whom we keep learning how to grow and to be partners in Christ's mission in this world.

No doubt, the call of Jesus is always addressed to an individual, and not to vague or anonymous groups. Like the "follow me" of the Gospel it seeks from each disciple a free response. But to follow Christ's path and be with Him always means joining with those who have heard the same call. The Church of Christ, in the etymological sense, means "the community of the called".

In this sense, this congress expresses symbolically the common wish of its members to support each other mutually and to encourage each other to respond together to the call of Jesus. I am using the word "symbolic" here in a sense that tends to be lost in current usage. If we call an action symbolic we often mean it is almost insignificant, but in fact, in all their richness, symbols are the reality which the human being cannot do without if slhe wishes to express and affirm the desires of the heart. A love or friendship that is never manifested in tangible, concrete signs, ordinary though they may be, will always fizzle out in the end.

In the same way, any Christian group will end in break-up if its members don't really work together, reflecting a shared desire to respond to their Saviour's call. Your meeting in this place witnesses to your wish to make this gathering a community of men and women committed to the same mission in the name of Christ who calls us to serve together, as co-workers in His mission.

At the service of the mission

It is exactly this mission that I'd like to talk about now, by reference to a text from the recent Synod dedicated to the vocation of the laity in the world.[1]

"Although it be one,” says this text, "the mission of the People of God in the world carries two dimensions : the witness given to the risen Christ, and activity aimed directly at renewing the temporal order to bring about greater union, justice and charity between people.”

Witnessing to the resurrected Christ

One way of describing the first kind of witness the Synod talks of would be the humble spreading of the presence of the risen Christ and the power of his Spirit, in the ordinariness and reality of our daily lives.

We know from experience that our lives are made up of a lot of decisions, some big, some little, which give each person's history its own shape. You reveal yourself - both to yourself and to others - by the choices you make, or those you avoid. In this perspective, Christian existence becomes human existence, and no more, but with the one added condition that it be directed by choices in harmony with the Spirit of Christ. So for Christians, the first kind of evangelisation of the world is the evangelisation of their own decision-making.

We in the Ignatian tradition know that it is not possible to split your life into two parts as if there were one part for things connected with God - Mass, prayer and reading the scriptures - and the other part for things connected with ourselves and others, that God has nothing to do with.

It is our total existence that is called to become Christian, that is, animated by a certain spirit - the Spirit of Christ. To live in the Spirit is to allow the Spirit into all the dimensions of our lives, our relationships, our family life, our work. The Faith is not split into sectors. The point of it is to guide our actions in all their aspects and to enlighten all our decisions - wherein we weave the fabric of our daily lives.

To put it in yet another way, an existence lived in a certain spirit, that of Jesus himself, radiates this presence. It constitutes the first form of witness given to Christ. Such a testimony isn't always expressed in words, and even when words play their part, they aren't necessarily words about religion, since there is a spiritual way of talking about everything.

It remains to be said that our way of being, acting and talking isn't the only kind of witness expected of Jesus's disciples. It's also about expressing the faith, and being its servants. This service can be accomplished in many different ways and in particular by Christians' cooperating in the spiritual enlivening of the church community. Saying this, I am not just thinking of all the initiatives you take within the Christian Life Community. I also have in mind all that you do, and all that you could do, to contribute to the Church's pastoral activity in all its fields of action: youth catechesis, student chaplaincy, spiritual companionship for people or groups outside CLC. The list of needs and possibilities is considerable, and you know it as well as I do. I am not at all arguing that Christians must put all their efforts into the internal servicing of the church community. The Church does not have as its sole aim the well-being of the faithful. She operates in the world and for the world. The message of the Gospel is not a hidden treasure to be shared with a precious few believers within their church. The Good News of Jesus has to be spread throughout the world, not only in words but in the deeds which it motivates.

Humanising the world

The second dimension of the mission of the people of God, which the Synod talked of, must therefore not be overlooked. Christians are called to contribute to the "renewing of the temporal order to bring about greater union, justice and charity between people". So, there is an unbreakable link between the service of faith and the renewal of the temporal order. The Gospel also reaffirms this many times, and particularly in the well-known parable of the sower.

Christ talks of a seed thrown on the ground which produces thirty,
sixty or a hundred-fold according to the quality of the soil. The seed is the word of God, but it's also the witness of disciples, whose way of living, acting, and talking makes the presence of the Lord and the power of the Spirit manifest in the world.

Now, Christ tells us this seed is sure to bear fruit so long as it falls on ground that is well-prepared. So, our Christian mission cannot simply consist in personally leading a life which bears witness to Christ; nor can it be limited to proclaiming the Good News in words; it also implies creating the appropriate conditions for its welcome. The Christian must not despair of any of the kinds of ground the Gospel talks about.

  • there is the ground at the edge of the road, in other words the lives of the downtrodden, those trampled underfoot after undergoing trials or being treated with contempt.

  • there is the stony ground, in other words lives with no soil, without depth, without roots; those who fall slavishly for every attraction, vulnerable to all the hurts that are a part of existence and constantly in danger of withering away.

  • there is the ground covered in thorns, in other words lives cluttered with the unimportant, people led astray by all the trappings of success, seduced by things that merely alienate and enslave.

All these types of ground, all these lives, are part of the mission ground entrusted to Jesus's disciples. It won't do for them just to be rich soil themselves, or to work on soil that is rich and well-disposed to welcome the good seed. They have to work the ground of this world such as it is, so that from it may spring the harvest of the Kingdom. They have to work to humanise humanity so that Christ, acting by the power of his Spirit, may make it divine.

Accomplishing such a mission involves the personal action of every Christian within their own situation, but it also requires us to consider broader questions which have a bearing on how our collective life is structured, on the running of the economy, the educational system, cultural activity, etc. In all these fields, where the future of our society is at stake, Christians are not the only ones expressing their point of view, suggesting solutions and contributing to their being put into practice, but their faith in Christ doesn't allow them to take a back seat. All the way through the Gospel, Jesus who announces the Good News in words also heals the body. Following his example, Christians have a mission to help heal the body of society from its ills.

It's not up to me to say what concrete form the putting into practice of this Gospel message might take for the Christian Life Community. The only thing I would like to say is that the Society of Jesus – whom the Father General has urged many times to bring together the service of faith and the promotion of justice - needs partners to respond to what is asked of it. On the face of it, you are well qualified to be these partners. The spirituality which is common to us, which would have to guide our way, invites each and everyone of us to look at the world as Ignatius did in the meditation of the Incarnation in the Exercises, that is , with the compassion that the three persons of the Trinity have for the whole of humanity. Compassion means "suffering with" by being placed side by side with those life has not blessed, side by side with the victims of every sort of misfortune, injustice and violence. Compassion also means caring not only about those in pain, but also about those who are the most vulnerable to the wounds that life can inflict, the young, the weak, those left out by education, more threatened than others by social change and the upheavals of history. In a word, compassion means bothering about those who haven't got much to look after themselves with, who need to be strengthened in human and spiritual terms so they can stand and face the future.

- An immense task, certainly, the prospect of which might sometimes leave us with a sense of powerlessness and despair. I am sure that the apostles who went before us were familiar with this testing experience. So to finish, 1'd like to remind you of a Gospel passage where Christ gives hope to his discouraged disciples.

Our Hope

The scene retold in John 4:35 happens around March, beside a sown field where no shoots have yet appeared. Jesus addresses his disciples, looking at the ground, "Haven't you got a saying: four months and then the harvest? Well I tell you, look around you, look at the fields; already they are white, ready for harvest!"

- A puzzling thing to say. But Jesus isn't trying to give us an agriculture lesson here. He has something else in mind. "You see," he is saying, "that in this sown field there isn't a single shoot to be seen. But you know that if you look again in four months, there'll be corn there. Well then, just as you have no doubt about the harvest coming from this earth, believe too that in humanity, where my word and yours have been planted, the harvest of the kingdom will come." But to believe this, we need to accept the task of sowing without reaping, just as we reap what others have sown before us. "One sows, another reaps", as Jesus goes on, "I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked for, and you will come into the rewards of their trouble. But the day will come when other harvesters reap what you have sown, and you will rejoice with them."

So, there can be a long time between the planting of the seed of which Christ talks (the time of witnessing) and the reaping of its fruits. Christ invites us to sow, with hope, fields which are not yet flush with the harvest, to prepare a future whose fruits we may never see.

Perhaps, at times, we may have doubts about the fruitfulness of our mission. It is here that we need a little of the patience of God, which does not ask us to put off until later what needs doing today, but teaches us not to sit anxiously waiting for the Church's mission - or the Christian mission, or CLC's - to succeed. Thus, we must lift from our hearts that worry which makes us think we must do everything ourselves as if everything began and ended with us.

We always enter into the same work that others have done before us. We reap the heritage of our predecessors and we prepare the way for those yet to follow. Only one thing matters: believing that God is there, hidden in the heart of the unknowable future, to bring to fruition our patient labour, on ground that is bare and dry, which the Lord tells us will flourish: This is our hope.

- Jacques Orgebin SJ

[1] Synod of 1987 on "The Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World"


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